2016 has gotten a bad name for the number of celebrities it killed, terrorism attacks it induced and the hellish election it spawned.
For me personally, 2016 wasn’t all bad.
For starters, I got married to a wonderful woman who’s been my better half for more than three years now. She was not only crazy enough to marry me but was even crazier to follow me down here to a city where neither of us had been in our short lives.
I got fired and hired in the same year. I was let go from the Seneca Journal after my eight months of designing pages went about as well as a prolonged Bay of Pigs invasion.
However, despite that Jim Healy and the powers at be at the Statesboro Herald decided to take a chance on me to lead their prep sports coverage and write columns about Georgia Southern football.
I’ll forever be appreciative for that shot you took Jim, even if it means you have to listen to my pessimistic diatribe about Gamecock athletics every now and then.
The past five months I’ve embedded myself in Bulloch County in one of the most intimate ways one can — covering the local sports teams. It's a silly notion on its face, but no matter where I’ve traveled — which includes places as far as Nebraska and North Carolina — high school sports draw a community together quite like nothing else.
It’s a shared interest with a common goal of winning and making better people out of the teenagers who play it. At least two to three times a week I had the pleasure of traveling to all corners of the county — and even outside of it — to experience these games first hand.
First and foremost was softball. Even right now as I’m typing this I can’t even begin to explain how impressed I was with the parents, players and coaches of all four softball teams here in Bulloch County.
All I heard when I moved down here in late July was, “Oh Southeast Bulloch’s the only good team here. Those other schools stink, always have and always will.”
While SEB had a great season in their own right, Portal, Bulloch Academy and Statesboro each had great seasons too. This county has a great softball culture and it’s being propped up by some great coaches and parents — along with some fantastic players.
I’ll probably bounce my grand kids on my knee while telling them about Madison Fields' 17 inning masterpiece against Union County to put SEB in the Elite Eight. I don’t care what level you pitch at, what she did that afternoon was masterful. I’m thankful I was there to see it.
I was fortunate to be in attendance for a big win for Statesboro when they beat Ware County 3-1 for arguably one of their biggest regular season wins in 2016. I was there for BA when they beat Edmund Burke in a thriller to clinch a home playoff berth.
It was all a pleasure, even while I didn’t get to see that much of Portal — getting to know Travis Motes and his girls over the season was a great experience. Bulloch County, don’t ever stop caring about softball — because what you did in 2016 was beyond special.
Sure, to all the local football teams I was a plague. I don’t know how else to explain it other than I’m sorry whatever hex I carried forced teams into losing efforts. Local football teams were 3-13 while I was in the press box, so if you want to point a finger at someone for Bulloch County’s football ailings in 2016 I’ll do my part and take the blame.
However that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy covering all those players and coaches. I got to know Steve Pennington, Matt Smith, Ron Duncan, Pat Collins and Terence Hennessy on a personal level this year, on top of some great young players.
To Julian Harrison, Conner McBride, Ethan Daughtry, Craig Ware, Chase Walker, Wright Rockett, Tyce Lovett, Seth Conner and GC Kimbrell — you’re all cool by me for however long I walk this earth. I wish y’all the best in whatever it is you decide to do with your futures.
I won’t tell a lie — living in Statesboro has been tough for my wife and I. We’re three and a half hours away from everyone and thing we know and love. There aren’t many people who live here our age whom we can befriend and spend a Saturday evening with.
It’s taken a toll on us both. While I know her co-workers at South Georgia Urgent Care have made life a little easier for her, all — well, most — of you folks who I’ve covered this year have made it a little easier on me.
From the BA softball parents who made sure I had a bottle of water and a chair when I came to their games or the Statesboro football parents opened the program up to me and everyone I've already mentioned. You all have helped make my stay here in Statesboro a little more sweet.
While I don’t know if I’ll be here in Bulloch County for a week or another two years, I know my 2016 wasn’t so bad thanks to the sporting community of Bulloch County and those who surround it.
So with that being said, think about the good 2016 did for you — and try to make 2017 even better.